Podcasts and Reviews

Peter Brötzmann – the Artist of Focusing

Seen from a particular point of view, music is simply the art of focusing attention on one thing at a time.

John Cage

Free improvisation is perhaps the most difficult to describe or evaluate, if one attempts to talk about music at all.  It is the easiest to be criticized for in essence is not meant to follow any standards. However, it is only music’s own duty to criticize itself, not the words’. Once you let it happen in its entirety.

Improvised music is the most difficult to praise objectively, for in order to enjoy it one must be able to enter the ineffable experience when time disappears or – becomes vertical. Enter is the right word. You enter the experience of music, or – you let the music enter yourself. Every word in this sentence can be questioned – experience, you, self, and even music, but enter is faithful.

Entering – you dissolve, or – the music dissolves in yourself once it enters you. But this only works when improvisation is genuine – when an artist attempts to listen to the eternity of music that exists out there – on the other side of the universe of sounds, and has the capacity to transcribe it for our human ears. Honestly delivering “out there” through the sound “over here.”

On Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 at 10 pm Peter Brötzmann (sax, clarinet), Ken Vandermark (sax), Mars Williams (sax), Kent Kessler (double bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) performed at Abrons Arts Center. It was the fourth set of the fourth day of the 16th Vision Festival, and the third performance of the day for Brötzmann, right after he was awarded “A lifetime of achievement” prize. The musicians have enjoyed playing together before, and the air was already electrified with the previous sets: such readiness to resonate topped with technical virtuosity allowed it to happen.

As genuinely honest improvisation, Brötzmann’s music allows the listener to achieve an almost palpable physical pleasure building up into complete cosmic love.  The closest possible image perhaps is a boundless immensity entering at perineum, sweeping away everything (in a pleasant way), walking up the spine from the inside as a glowing stream of light that hits the crown and finally knocks it up – into the sky, stars and the universe.

How does it work?

Music is magical, but it’s not magic. The musical experience just described is very similar to a deep state of meditation when an experiencer manages to achieve complete presence and keep attention at the image for a very long time. Extremely difficult in an abstract setting, it often comes easier with an appropriate music. Complete presence of the listener arises from the complete freedom of the sound that nevertheless has a center and a form – the attributes very characteristic of Brötzmann’s improvisation. This evening musicians started with sonorous cacophony resembling chaotic running about of ants that grew in intensity and chaosity, but never to an unbearable state, being intertwined with contemplative calming streams. This capacity for focused musical conception and the ability to carry it through with any group of good musicians from duo to tentet is what allows Brötzmann to hold the listeners’ attention, leading them to a height of musical pleasure. Losing the sense of time completely, the listener can wander in the complete unknown, while still being relaxed with no fear of getting lost, knowing that in the end she or he will arrive to the right place.

And the doors will open for them to enter.

Erlena Dlu

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